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Europe Heat Wave: What to Know About Temperatures in Italy, Greece and Spain

Tourists on cobblestone sidewalks cool off in front of a fan that was set up.
Tourists waiting to visit the Colosseum on Wednesday in Rome.Credit...Alessandro Penso for The New York Times

The extreme weather engulfing Europe has sent temperatures in southern parts of the continent to record highs and brought thunderous storms to the Balkans, prompting officials in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain to impose measures to protect residents and tourists from the scorching conditions.

Temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 48 degrees Celsius) were forecast in the hottest areas after an anticyclone moved into the region from North Africa on Sunday and spurred a new heat wave. Although the heat briefly subsided on Thursday and Friday in some places, it is expected to return next week.

With many areas in Southern Europe hitting peak temperatures this week, governments urged people to take precautions. Wildfires, escalated by the hot and dry conditions, also prompted the evacuations of thousands of people across Croatia, Greece, Switzerland and the Canary Islands. In the Balkans, storms led to flash flooding, and several people were killed.

Although it is difficult to link individual events to climate change, scientists say that the heat waves in Europe are increasing in frequency and intensity at a faster rate than practically anywhere else on the planet.

This summer is also forecast to be more intense than last year’s because of El Niño, a natural weather pattern forming for the first time in four years, which has fostered conditions for rising temperatures.

Here’s what you need to know.

The intensity of the heat wave this week may have led to the highest temperatures ever recorded in some European countries.

In Italy, heat engulfed much of the country, with the south bearing the brunt. Meteorologists said that Rome, which reached 107 degrees on Tuesday, and Sardinia, which hit 113 degrees on Wednesday, may have broken local heat records.

Sicily recorded a temperature of about 115 degrees on Tuesday, and Italy’s Health Ministry has for days put most of the country’s major cities under red-alert heat warnings. Officials advise that people in affected areas avoid direct sun exposure from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and warn that even ordinarily healthy people are at risk.

In Greece, the national meteorological service warned that heat wave conditions would persist over the weekend, with temperatures as high as 113 degrees expected in the central part of the country on Sunday. The heat will then dip slightly before resurging later next week, the authorities said.

Several countries — including France, Israel and Italy — have sent resources to help Greece’s firefighters contain wildfires on the mainland and the island of Rhodes that have left people fleeing from seaside resorts and summer camps.

“We are faced with a combination of extreme weather phenomena that are often beyond us,” Ioannis Artopios, a fire department spokesman, said on Thursday, adding that “equally extreme conditions” were expected on Friday.

Temperatures in Spain on Tuesday exceeded 104 degrees in more than 140 places across the country, its public weather monitor said, and Málaga Airport in the country’s south recorded a high of 111 degrees, a number that it had not seen since 1978. The northeastern region of Catalonia registered its highest-ever temperature — 113 degrees — this week, in Figueres.

While temperatures in Spain are expected to subside somewhat next week, the risk of wildfires remained high. Firefighters have already responded to a blaze in La Palma, one of the Canary Islands, which burned about 11,000 acres of land, destroyed a dozen homes and forced more than 4,000 people to be evacuated.

Switzerland also evacuated over 200 people on Monday evening because of a forest fire in its mountains.

In the Balkans, severe thunderstorms after a round of hot weather led to several deaths, flash flooding and the destruction of property. In Croatia, the government said that three people died because of storms, which moved into Bosnia and Slovenia on Wednesday night.

In Northern Europe, which was spared the intense heat this week, forecasters said that Britain was expecting rain and unusually strong winds this weekend.

The deaths of 61,000 people last year could be attributed to the brutal heat in Europe, according to one recent study, with children and older people especially vulnerable.

After a particularly deadly heat wave in 2003, officials in Europe introduced initiatives like public cooling spaces and warning systems for extreme heat. Municipalities in some areas have tried methods like adding reflective paint to pavements or creating more space for water to cool the ground. But experts say that the authorities have not done enough to mitigate the effects of heat waves over the longer term, including by adding more greenery and retrofitting public areas and transportation.

With fears that this year’s heat waves could also prove deadly, officials have imposed protective measures, advising people to stay indoors where possible and to drink plenty of water.

In Italy, officials are providing misting tents in some areas and issuing warnings. In Rome, a task force of volunteers is patrolling some popular tourist areas to spot people suffering from heat stress.

In Greece, the government activated emergency measures that included opening public cooling spaces, allowing employees in private companies to work remotely and requiring workers at risk of heat stress to stop from noon to 5 p.m. Greece’s civil protection ministry warned of a high potential for fires in some areas and said that government and regional officials were on alert to help respond.

The sweltering temperatures have arrived during peak tourism season for many European countries. The Greek authorities have closed the ancient Acropolis during the hot midday hours to protect visitors, and workers have gone on strike to shutter the site in the evening, citing dangerous conditions.

The head of the Acropolis’s workers union, Ioannis Mavrikopoulos, told a local radio station on Friday that the temperature at the Acropolis had reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Between 20 and 25 visitors had fainted at the site daily during the heat wave, Mr. Mavrikopoulos said.

“Heatwaves put our health and lives at risk,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, said Monday on Twitter, adding that many places were expecting the hottest day on record and calling on them to address the climate crisis.

Aaron Boxerman and Constant Méheut contributed reporting.

Posted on 22 Jul 2023 12:36 link